Rethinking the Saying “Overqualified for the Job”

There is a lot of discussion and advice out there for all types of job seekers; including those who are unemployed or underemployed — in spite of having a good deal of experience and/or education. Since I am not an HR professional, I will not bother to rehash the suggestions coming from that side of table. But I will add my $0.02 as a job seeker who sometimes find myself in this situation.

Many people suggest leaving key information, such as education, off your resume in order to combat this. But I personally would never do this. Why? Well because it undercuts your own personal accomplishments and also alludes to dishonesty. You may think, “Well what they don’t know won’t hurt them.” But do you really expect to work somewhere for a good length of time and keep this information secret the entire time? Even if you do not lose your job, those who know that you were not completely honest on your resume (even if it was to downplay, not enhance your accomplishments) may see you in a different light.

Being overqualified is more of a challenge on your behalf than on the employer’s. That is because the two main factors that concern employers about overqualified candidates, salary and longevity, are completely in your hands ultimately. There are very few instances in civilian life where you are paired with jobs that you do not choose to do. At some point, you put yourself out there as a candidate for a particular job. When doing so, know and be forthcoming with your career expectations.

Potential employers can only assume your career expectations. They can’t know exactly what they are until you explain what they are. While it’s true that your resume may be tossed out strictly because you are “overqualified” for the position in question…never getting a chance to give your side of the story (it’s debatable rather or not your cover letter will get read or not); it’s probably a win-win situation in that you most likely wouldn’t have been a good fit for the company anyway. Many times overqualified job seekers have to look at alternative options for employment: temp agencies, personal networking and job fairs can help give you an edge above just being text on a few pieces of paper.

So let’s look at 3 major reasons why you may find yourself as the “overqualified” job candidate:

#1 – You need money. You could be nearing unemployment or have a major lifestyle change (i.e. divorce, birth of a child, etc.) that makes it absolutely necessary for you to have a paycheck (or a bigger paycheck). If this is the case, then you must be absolutely honest about the nature of your situation…to yourself. If you know deep down that you just have to get some type of income in, and not wait for the perfect opportunity to come around…pick a position in an industry that has a high turnover rate — like retail or food service…where a quick departure won’t burn any bridges. If you can afford to wait around a bit, explain to a potential employer that certain personal or professional circumstances have moved you to seek the position in question. Be sure to focus on the situation…and not salary or your wrecked finances. You don’t want to come across as being desperate (even if you really are); but rather excited about this new opportunity.

#3 – Running into professional dead ends. To my knowledge, there is no such thing as a professional “crystal ball” — where you can see exactly where your career path will go. Industries and companies have high points and low points. As an employee, this is not your fault. Yet when seeking other opportunities, you can’t play the victim card either. In job interviews, don’t skirt around explaining drastic changes in your professional background. Focus on your ability to recognize new opportunities…instead of lamenting about how “bad” a company or industry was. Also, make sure your work history reflects some sort of invested effort. If you spent 6 months as a teacher, and you are now looking to get into accounting, you may want to rethink your career strategy. Even if you realize a position is not for you that quickly, you still need to hang in there a bit longer (2 years perhaps). This will give you time to develop a new career plan, establish positive relationships with your current co-workers and supervisors (for recommendations going forward) and also not jump out from your resume to future recruiters that you are a “job hopper”.

#4 – Personal issues. This can be relocation, divorce, health…etc. The need to work in a particular area or at a particular time may not always be financial (like in #1); but may mainly be a matter of well-being and personal development. Or can be that you are just burned out from your previous/current career. If this is the case, now would be a good time to hone in on your passions. You may have a Ph.D. in biology, but you love art. So being a tour guide for an art museum appeals to you more than being in a lab. When this is the case, find volunteer outlets to demonstrate that you are serious about this new career path. Create and do things on your own (like a portfolio, website, etc.) that demonstrates this new found passion or expertise. Help build definition for yourself outside of your previous work experience and education.

These points apply only to people who have true desire to work in the position that they may be deemed “overqualified for”. However if you are a person who just wants to get out of the house, and then lament over and over about how overqualified and underpaid they are (especially right after getting the job), then do everyone a favor and don’t bother applying for the position. Employment is much like a romantic relationship. There has to be a mutual benefit. If not, then one party is just using the other, and it is a mistake from the start.